Gates Foundation funds expand trauma intervention

Natalie Turner, assistant director of the Washington State University Area Health Educations Center, leads a workshop for Bemiss Elementary School teachers. Photo courtesy of Jane Stevens, editor


SPOKANE, Wash. – Children in two Seattle Public Schools elementary schools will soon have a better chance at academic success, thanks to a collaborative effort to expand a successful school-based trauma intervention program.

Public Health – Seattle & King County and the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) of Eastern Washington, a unit of Washington State University Extension, were recently awarded a three-year $651,345 grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund a project to replicate and enhance an evidence-based model used in Spokane schools.

The project will be implemented in partnership with Seattle Public Schools — specifically Beacon Hill International School and Olympic Hills Elementary School — the City of Seattle Office for Education, and Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic.

Multiple, complex trauma events

The goal of the project is to maximize the potential for school success for all children by addressing the needs of children who have experienced multiple traumatic events, or complex trauma. Such events may include homelessness; parents’ divorce or separation; being exposed to or witnessing domestic violence; or substance abuse by a family member.


“With about a quarter to a third of U.S. children affected, complex trauma is truly a national public health crisis,” said Christopher Blodgett, director of AHEC and the lead investigator for WSU. “It has been shown to directly compromise the success of schools, particularly those in high poverty areas. If schools are to improve academic outcomes, addressing complex trauma should be central to their educational mission.”

Mitigating the effects of trauma

As part of this project, the partners will implement a model developed by Blodgett and his team that improves school practices and trains teachers and other school staff to help mitigate the effects of trauma. They will also explore how the model might enhance existing practice for school-based health clinics.

The project will be conducted as an integrated part of the established work plans of Seattle’s Families and Education Levy, which supports programs and initiatives that help Seattle’s children be safe, healthy, and ready to learn. Beacon Hill International School has a partnership with Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, which provides school-based health care funded by levy dollars.

“This grant will help children who have experienced trauma to get the emotional support they need and learn coping skills to succeed in school and life,” said Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

Link to adult health problems

“Many adult health problems — including chronic diseases, depression, suicide, being violent and being a victim of violence — can be traced to childhood trauma. If we can reduce the impacts of childhood trauma, we can improve not only success in school, but also lifelong health,” said Dr. David Fleming, director and health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

The King County project builds on earlier work undertaken by Blodgett and his team. In 2010, AHEC received grants from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Gates Foundation to integrate trauma response and social emotional learning into Spokane-based early learning programs and eastern Washington elementary schools, respectively. Last year, a grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provided funding to implement the program in more than 40 schools and small districts across Washington state.

“We want to thank the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for funding this important work,” said Pegi McEvoy, assistant superintendent of operations for Seattle Public Schools. “We recognize that many students struggle with social, emotional and behavioral issues that make it difficult for them to achieve academically. This project helps further our mission to support the academic success of our students, and builds on our ongoing partnership with Public Health – Seattle & King County.”


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